Tighter state budget may raise tuition

By Greg Rivara

NORMAL—A tighter state budget belt is stirring worries of another tuition increase soon after the recommended 5 percent rise for next semester.

Board of Regents members who met Thursday at Illinois State University in Normal said tuition might be raised more if the General Assembly drastically changes the Illinois Board of Higher Education budget recommendations or if the temporary tax surcharge isn’t made permanent.

Tuition might need to go up sooner than expected because state money and tuition is not keeping up with inflation, said Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves. Inflation is also outpacing instructors’ salaries, he said.

But NIU Student Regent James Mertes said it seems the Regents always look toward tuition first to make up shortfalls instead of “as a last resort.”

“Tuition always should be the last resort. I’m not convinced it is in this system,” Mertes said.

Groves replied, “It’s definitely not gouging the students.”

NIU President John La Tourette said the Regency System historically is underfunded.

“We are the lowest funded institutions in state dollars,” La Tourette said. “Not only has the state underfunded higher education for a number of years, the state has particularly underfunded our institutions.”

Because state funding is not calculated on a per student basis, “we’re paying the penalty of growth,” La Tourette said.

Historically, tuition funds account for one-third of instructional costs. However, it never happens, Regents agreed.

“Using the one-third rule is like a scientist using an equation that is invalid,” said ISU President Tom Wallace.

Groves said the IBHE’s recommendation assumes the surcharge will continue.

Gov. Jim Edgar supports extending the surcharge. Groves called the extension “absolutely indespensible.”

The IBHE collects budget requests from state schools, evaluates them and then recommends the budgets to the legislature.